By Michelle S. Lazurek, Crosswalk.com
Advent is from the Latin word Adventus, which means "arrival" or "visit." For four weeks before Christmas, churches of all denominations celebrate Advent and light candles and sometimes sing special songs to carry out this tradition. Growing up, I witnessed my church light a candle each week, but I never understood the meaning behind the tradition. Why do we celebrate Advent? Here are five reasons why, year after year, we continue this tradition:
1. It Is in Anticipation of Jesus' Coming
Advent begins on December 1st and ends on December 25th. People often use calendars and candles to count down the days in anticipation of Christ's birth. Whatever time marker you use, be sure to focus on the reason for this season and not the candy or gift that often comes in a calendar.
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2. It's the Celebration of the Earthly Birth of Jesus
Although history dictates that Christ was not born on December 25th, modern-day society uses December 25th as the marker that marks Jesus' birth. Jesus doesn't care if we celebrate on his actual day of birth or the day society uses to mark his birth. Either way, it is important we remember each year that if Jesus had not been born, he would not have been able to come to offer salvation for us all. His birth marks the beginning of his ministry, even though it wasn't until age thirty that he began ministering to people and met the needs of those around him.
3. It Keeps the Focus of the Season on Christ
It's clear that through the years, retailers have marked November 1st as the beginning of the Christmas season. We often see Halloween decorations for sale and then Christmas decorations go up somewhere around the end of October or beginning of November. Given the consumeristic nature that Christmas has become, it can be difficult to keep the focus on Christ. Use Christmas as twenty-five days to get closer to God. Pick a new discipline to try each day so you can expand your spiritual growth. One day, try sitting in silence for ten minutes. The next day, sit outside in solitude on your lunch break. On the third day, sit and listen for God's voice. Write down anything you hear. On the fourth day, journal your feelings about the upcoming holiday and what Jesus means to you. Take an inventory of your spiritual growth. Are you where you would like to be in your relationship with Jesus? What can you do to try to improve that?
4. It's a Symbol of Eternal Life
Celebrate lighting advent candles adorned with a wreath underneath the candles. Comprised of mostly evergreens, this wreath celebrates new life. It is a symbol of the new life we have once Christ is born. The wreath's circular shape symbolizes this life has no beginning and no end. It also signifies that our souls never die once we believe in Christ.
5. It's a Reminder of the Grace Offered to Us All
When we mark off each day of the Advent calendar or light each Advent candle each week, it is a reminder of the grace offered to us all. Without Christ's birth, we would still be under the law. Under the law, we would have to complete a certain number of good behaviors or tasks to be worthy of forgiveness and salvation. Yet, with Jesus, it is by grace we are saved. Because of his grace, we all have access to God despite what we've done. Advent is not only a way to count down to Christ's arrival, but it is also a reminder that it is because of his arrival that we can experience the unconditional love and grace of God.
Here are some creative ways to celebrate:
Make an Advent Calendar
When I was growing up, there was only a small selection of Advent calendars. Some came with a tiny bit of chocolate that the person opening each day's window could eat each year. As retailers have grown craftier and created more ways to make money, Advent calendars can come in just about any shape or size and come with any gift you desire. To make more money, society removed the Christian tradition of Advent and instead made it a secularized event with some Christian verses sprinkled in. Make your own personalized Advent calendar using software like Canva or Shutterfly. Keep the focus on the twenty-five chapters of Luke. Instead of focusing on receiving a gift as you open the window, have a family member each day open the window and that family member is responsible for reading out loud the chapter in Luke. Ask the person who opened it what new insight they gleaned from that chapter. Pray together as a family and ask God to help you as a family keep your focus on Christ this Christmas season.
Do One Act of Kindness
Because of Christ's birth, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is kindness. Individually or as a family, vow to commit one act of kindness each day leading up to Christmas. Do what your budget and time will allow. If it's only a small act, consider it a win. If it's a large act, be grateful that God has given you time and resources to be able to bless others. It can be as easy as opening the door for someone or paying for someone's order in line behind you at the drive-thru window of your favorite restaurant. It could be as lavish as paying for someone's layaway or Christmas gifts in front of you in line, or it could be volunteering your time at a shelter. Big or small, Christ is glorified and keeps the reason for the season in the hearts and minds of the people who not only do these acts but also receive these acts of kindness.
Make a Christ Trait Journal
For the twenty-five days leading up to Christmas, journal each day about one character trait of Christ. You can either use the names of God or a character trait of Christ you see in the Bible. Write down the verse and how Jesus exemplified that character trait. Then pray, asking God to help you increase your skills in exemplifying that trait. Jot down some tangible ways you can do that.
No matter if you use old-fashioned traditions or new ideas to modernize your celebration of Advent, be sure to keep Jesus as the reason for the season. Since Christmas is focused on buying and giving gifts to others, give the best gift of all by exemplifying Jesus in your everyday life. Avoid buying into the consumeristic nature of Christmas and instead use it as a season of giving sacrificially of yourself to others. Whatever acts of kindness or other fruits of the spirit you choose to display, keep these acts secret so Jesus will reward you in his time. In the same way Jesus came quietly to earth in an untraditional manner, do these acts, and keep it private. Don't post about it or tell friends about it, but rather keep that as a secret way to display Christ's love and become more Christ-like in the process.